The Unspoken Rules of Cairo Traffic

I’ve always wondered how one would explain the unspoken rules of Cairo traffic to a non-Egyptian trying to learn how to drive on the roads of our everyday craziness. Egyptians drive for years in Cairo and eventually get a feel for what must be done in order to arrive safely at our destination in the shortest possible time with minimal scrapes and dents to our cars and minimal loss of life. It’s not an easy feat. But we eventually get there.

My British khawaga husband Colin is spending a full month in Cairo for the first time. We both decided it would be good for him to learn how to drive here. In the process, I’ve discovered that itis possible to put our unspoken rules into words that are inevitably shouted out. I thought it would be useful to share my all-encompassing wisdom on Cairo traffic with a larger audience so I jotted the rules down.

Colin has an odd tendency to drive in one lane and to stay in it. He’s a khawaga. What can I say? His natural inclination is to keep driving at the same speed as long as he believes he has the right of way. With my eyes rolling, I have had to teach him rules number 1 through 3.

RULE #1:

The concept of “right of way” is practically unknown in Egypt. If you drive on our roads using this concept you are likely to kill at least a dozen people before you reach your destination. We do have our own local version of right of way though. Larger vehicles have right of way over smaller vehicles. Pedestrians already walking across the street, despite the fact that they look like they are on a suicide mission, have the right of way. Cars that beat you by filling the gap in traffic you’re aiming for with the front of their car have the right of way.

RULE #2:

ALL LANES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. There is a reason why one lane is moving particularly slowly. Do not feel loyal to your lane. If you do, you are an idiot. Get yourself into the moving lane no matter what it takes.

This post was originally written for CairoScene’s The Scenario. Find out the rest of my unspoken rules of Cairo driving here


We Stood on the Shoulders of Our Forefathers

Below is an article that was meant to be a chapter in a book on the Arab Spring I was told would be published by Columbia University Press. The editor was asking that we write our chapters on a volunteer basis (no payment would be received in return), which I gladly did. However, sometime later, I was asked to sign a copyright statement that said, “You hereby permit the exclusive use and agree to transfer the copyright of all or portions of your material in the above-referenced Work in all forms and media (now in existence or hereafter invented) including advertising and related promotion throughout the world and in perpetuity. You hereby grant me and Columbia University Press the right to use your name, likeness and biographical details in connection with all uses of the material and you waive the right to inspect or approve such use.” It seemed completely unreasonable for me to sign away all copyrights of this piece while getting nothing in return. The editor and I were unable to reach a mutual agreement and as a result, I now post this article, written in October 2011, on my blog:

October 20, 2011. It is eight months and nine days after a very emotional day, February 11, that ended with me realizing that I had succeeded in toppling a dictator. It sounds very narcissistic, doesn’t it? “I toppled a dictator.” But I’m certain it’s the same feeling shared by millions of other Egyptians who carried their shrouds on their backs and left their homes every day between January 25 and February 11 with a determination they had not known before to change their country for the better. (more…)

The Day Egypt Got Its First Civilian President

I left work early yesterday, June 24, just as most everyone in Egypt did. I was concerned that once the election results were announced – regardless who won – it would be difficult for me to get back home. My work is within five minutes walking distance from Tahrir. I was anxious throughout the drive home. Cairo was going through an intense heat wave. The roads were jam-packed with everyone trying to get home before 3pm when the announcement was due to be televised.

As I inched through Cairo’s traffic, I began worrying that I might not make it home in time to watch the announcement. I turned on the radio to make sure I didn’t miss anything in case I didn’t make it. I also decided that if the announcement was made early or if I didn’t reach home in time, I’d park the car in front of the nearest coffee shop and watch with hundreds of others set to do the same. (more…)

The Day of Presidential Elections: I Chose the Revolution

It is done. And I chose the revolution.

When the results of the first round of presidential elections came out, I blogged that I had decided to vote for the Muslim Brother (MB) candidate, Mohammed Morsi. It was a straightforward choice for me at the time. If I only had one of the two to choose from, I would not choose the man who belonged to the former regime. I left my home and my children and risked my life along with millions of others for 18 days to remove that regime. I would not bring it back again with my own two hands. I do not want the MB ruling my country. But I was going to bring them in and then watch them like a hawk. In an Arabic language video blog a few days later I said, “If the MB make one single mistake when they come into government, just wait and see how the Egyptian people will make the ‘day of their father black’ (an Egyptian saying meaning it will be a dark day for them).”

Between then and now, only a matter of days, many things have happened in Egypt. A second attempt was made to put together a committee that would draft Egypt’s constitution. The committee stunk of sectarianism. Then parliament was dissolved. We are in a country with no constitution and no parliament after we spent months going through a prolonged process to have both, which included people going to the polls. And we end up with neither. (more…)

I’ve voted…God help us

It’s done. I walked into the school where my voting station is. I said a short prayer to God before proceeding. “God, if there is good in this choice of mine, then make it easy for me. If there is no good in this choice of mine, then make it difficult for me. You, alone, know where our best interests lie.”

The young soldier sitting at the gate gave me directions to station number 18, where I was to go. It was a large school. There was no line at all. No one ahead of me. I gave them my name and number. They checked my ID. They gave me a piece of paper with the names and pictures of all the 13 presidential candidates. I checked on the box in front of one of them. God made it easy for me. And it was done.

I walked out of the school feeling numb. As I walked home, I eventually felt as if I wanted to cry. I held it back. A dialogue went through my head:

“What if I made the wrong choice? I have misgivings about every single one of the candidates. Strong misgivings even. What if my misgivings about this particular candidate turn out to be true? What if he wins? What will I have done then to my country? No. Even if these misgivings turn out to be true, the damage will only be minimal. There are other candidates who could do real damage. I’ve avoided them. I’ve done what I can. I’ve chosen to the best of my ability and knowledge. Now it is time for me to leave it to God.”

Last night I decided I needed to avoid reading the political statuses of my Facebook friends. I was getting stressed and upset about the hyper-politicization and missionary styles of some of them in supporting their candidates or their points of view. I was being a bit bitchy myself. I needed clarity of mind. I needed to think without being influenced. Social media has become an important information source for many of us. But it’s also become a major source of stress at times like these.

It’s done. I’m still going to avoid my friends’ political Facebook statuses for awhile. I’m going to do my best to take the weekend off from politics and relax. I’ll be interested to follow the results. But whoever wins in this round, it will not be a life-changing event for me. I will continue to observe. And hope. And pray.

God, the Egyptian people have done everything in their power to bring good to this country and remove evil. We’ve shed tears, sweat, blood, eyes, and souls. Please, God, help us now.

Mr President, Whoever You Are, Beware the Egyptian People

I think I’ve figured out who I will vote for as Egypt’s next president. I’m not happy about my choice. I wouldn’t be happy about any choice I made. I’m not happy about the candidates I have to choose from.

I looked through most of the candidates’ programs. The conclusion I came to was: lots of pages of nice words. They seemed to me to be rather similar in their promises. They all say they want good for Egypt. Good for them.

But what do I want? What I am looking for? I want someone I can trust to clean the State from bureaucracy and corruption. I want someone I can trust to bring to justice any wrong-doers from the previous regime and its various arms. I want someone I can trust to re-vamp our police and security forces. I want someone I can trust to sensitively and smartly deal with our Armed Forces. I want someone I can trust to initiate an inclusive process that will give us a constitution that will protect all our rights and that we can all be proud. (more…)

Why the 2012 Egyptian Presidential Elections Make Me Want to Barf

Egyptian elections are the day after tomorrow. This will be the first time in the history of Egypt that Egyptians will have a real say in who will be their president. This should be a time for rejoicing. For some Egyptians, it is. I am not one of those Egyptians.

As the elections near, more and more I have a feeling of foreboding. I have only two days left and I still do not know who I want to vote for. And I don’t know because I feel that all the choices are bad. Very bad. Not that the presidential candidates are bad people. There is no doubt in my mind that most of the candidates really do have good intentions. But no matter how many times I run the scenarios through my head of what if x wins, or what if y wins, we’re fucked. Seriously fucked. In my opinion, not one of them has the leadership skills necessary to navigate Egypt through a very very delicate process of deciding on what kind of a country we want to have. We’ve already had a sneak peak – more properly called a sneak freak – at what that process will look like. The Egyptian parliament, who we all hoped would guide us through the process of choosing a committee to put together a draft constitution, failed us in the most miserable way possible. (more…)

Cairo Traffic Will Bring Out the Worst In You (And You’ll Be Proud)

I have road rage. I openly admit to this. My road rage only ever appears when I’m driving in Cairo, though. And I’ve driven in many places in the world.

My father had road rage. Growing up, it made me proud to watch him get out of the car on a narrow road and block another car heading in the opposite direction and not letting him get by. You go get him, Baba! I’d think to myself. He’s a mouse, that man! An ant! He’s unworthy of this road upon which you treadeth! I wouldn’t even know why Baba was blocking his way. And I wouldn’t care. It was great entertainment. I loved every minute of it.

My Baba has a well-known story that I was not witness to but I can see it in my head as if I were. He was driving in front of our house in Cairo and a bus driver, upset with something related to his driving, yelled out an obscenity to my Baba insulting his beard. Wohohoho. That idiot had no idea what a big mistake he made.  My Baba maneuvered his car right in front of the huge, red bus and prevented it from moving further. He got out of the car in a rage, moved toward the trunk, opened it, pulled out the jack, and rushed towards the bus driver’s door with the intent of smashing his head in.  He opened the door and started pulling the driver out of his seat. But by that time people had gathered and started pulling my Baba away (as people here are accustomed to ruining the best Cairo street fights this way).

As you can see, nothing actually happened here. There was just the threat of something happening. Usually here in Cairo, that’s enough to calm us down. There are always enough bystanders willing to intervene to prevent anything from actually happening. Maybe that’s why we feel so secure in our road rage. We know nothing will really happen no matter how ugly we get.

Anyone who has been in a car with me, my children especially, knows that I am my father’s daughter. (more…)

Egypt’s Tourism is Under Threat

Egypt is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I don’t say that because I’m Egyptian. I say that with the eye of a person who has traveled the world far and wide and has seen what the world – and Egypt – has to offer.

Northern Sinai

Put Cairo aside for a bit. The minute you step outside of Cairo, our country’s beautiful landscape will put you into a trance. If you travel up north, you’ll ride through our lusciously green Delta region, with the countless Nile tributaries feeding farmland as far as the eye can see. Travel further north, and you’ll reach the Mediterranean Sea and its quaint towns scattered along it. Alexandria is a jewel. It comes with centuries-worth of history and shines with its typical Mediterranean culture.

Travel south from Cairo along the Nile Valley and you’ll pass through rural southern towns known for their hospitality, strong accents, and great food. The further south you go, the bluer and the clearer the Nile waters get. Travel even further south and you will be stunned by 4000 years-worth of history and some of the most important antiquities mankind has to provide.

Travel west and you will venture into the Western Desert, with its never-ending sand dunes and scattered oases. And travel east and you will travel through the Eastern Desert to reach the Red Sea, with some of the best dive sites in the whole world.

And then there’s Cairo. Egyptians call it Masr – or simply Egypt – because it is everything that Egypt represents from history, to culture, to a gathering place of people and cultures, to chaos, to beauty and grandeur, to ugliness and pettiness.

Al-Azhar University in Old Cairo

Egyptians say that Egypt is the Mother of the World – umm addunya – and we truly believe it is. Egyptians also say that if you drink from the Nile River once, you will return to it. And definitely for most Egyptians, that’s true. Our attachment to our country is very strong no matter how strongly we criticize it. And most Egyptians who leave the country do eventually return, if even to be buried in its belly.

As a country, we have so much to offer to tourists. As a people, we’ve failed tourists miserably. (more…)

Egypt’s Ministry of Transportation: FUCK YOU!

I am not going to beat around the bush in this blog post. Egypt’s Ministry of Transportation deserves to go to hell. And Egypt’s Ministry of Interior deserves to go to hell for too many reasons, but one of them is the appalling performance of its traffic police.

I am absolutely sick and tired of feeling I want to be shot in the head with a gun every single time I drive in Cairo’s streets. The problem is that so many of our traffic issues can be solved if there were people with heads on their shoulders who were actually working.

Let me give you a few examples from my daily drive out of and into my neighborhood of Al-Haram. (more…)